Nineteen years ago, soccer was a sport trying to get a participation foothold in the U.S., Fort Lowell Park was mostly a dust bowl and Curt Cannon was coaching his first team in the newly organized Fort Lowell Shootout.
“Day one,” he fondly recalls of when he first was involved with the event.
Now the event, known as the Tucson Association of Realtors Shootout, is one of the most popular youth tournaments in the country.
And the turf on the main field at Fort Lowell park is a lush rye grass carpet.
“Just one of the benefits,” Shootout official Pat Dunham said. “This event really gave back to the community – the turf, lighted fields all over town, goals in the fields . . .”
As for Cannon, who with wife, Diana, took over operations of the Shootout nine years ago, he never strayed. Every year since, the event has grown and he has grown with it, “for the love of the kids and soccer.
This weekend at 11 sites, including Fort Lowell Park, 289 teams, with 132 from out of town, will play in the multi-bracketed tournament.
The teams will participate in the Friday night family festival, the greatest youth sport and family show in Tucson every year.
Included in that will be the Soccer Olympics skill contest.
Amazingly, the tournament is just 14 teams down from last year despite tough economic times.
“We thought the economy would make a big difference,” Cannon said. “Phoenix has a tournament with teams down 50 percent. We maxed before 9/11 with 384 and after we slowly built back up. We started with probably 40 to 50 teams and the tradition has grown.”
Home builder Bill Viner originally founded the event after, according to Dunham, “he got tired of driving kids as a coach to California and Phoenix, seeing a field and four hotel walls.”
Each team that comes gets a guaranteed three games.
Last year’s 16-under Gold Medal boys team was from England. Families of those teams were able to watch the matches via webcam.
Competition levels are varied from ages 9 through 16, but the tournament more importantly fosters players and families forming bonds competitors would not normally have.
All teams are certified by the American Youth Soccer Organization and U.S. Youth Soccer.
“But the tournament is so different than others,” said Cannon, “because of Friday night. Food vendors, an opening parade, the Soccer Olympics, daybreak activities . . .”
Dunham hopes continued support by the community can repair an issue faced in Tucson.
“Lack of fields is a huge problem,” she said.
Who/where: 289 teams, U-8 to U-17; 11 local fields, including Fort Lowell Park, at Craycroft and Glenn.
Opening ceremonies: 6 p.m. Friday, Fort Lowell Park. A $3 shuttle is available from 4:30-10 p.m. at SE corner of Craycroft and River.